Two Graudates

Lectureship Advances Civility in Public Discourse

Pamela Deese, SPA/BS ’80, WCL/JD ’83—a member of the American University Board of Trustees, adjunct WCL faculty member, and AU parent—has deep and continuing connections to the university. As a lawyer, she feels strongly about civil discourse and ethics within our society, now more than ever. And her membership in the Delta Gamma sorority, a family legacy started by her mother and continued by her daughter, epitomizes her commitment to philanthropy.

Deese, a partner at the DC-based law firm of Arent Fox, has connected those cornerstones in creating the Deese-Knight Family Delta Gamma Endowed Lectureship in Values and Ethics at American University.

With Deese’s generosity, AU becomes the 21st national university to host a Delta Gamma lectureship series. Deese said AU’s Delta Gamma Beta Epsilon chapter will work with the Office of Campus Life to select lectureship speakers who exemplify the sorority’s values and ethics. She said these speakers may include celebrities, political figures, entrepreneurs, and “unsung heroes” who have overcome adversities or established organizations that further the Delta Gamma motto to do good.

Deese’s gift, which will be underpinned by the Delta Gamma Foundation’s separate fundraising effort, helps AU serve as a place where changemakers and different perspectives converge to highlight the importance of values and ethics in our communities and lives.

Deese said the strongest of the three drivers behind her gift is her commitment to AU. A long-time supporter of her alma mater, she has inspired others in her family to follow in her footsteps. Deese’s oldest son, Spencer, is an AU alumnus. Her youngest daughter, Kendall, has her undergraduate degree from AU and is currently in her second year at WCL. 

Deese’s connection to Delta Gamma (DG) is also a family affair. Her mother, Penny Wells Knight, pledged the sorority as a student at Kent State University in 1950. “My mother had friends her whole life who were her DG sisters. DG was a huge part of her life and philanthropy. She was super involved until her death,” Deese said.

Deese traces her own involvement with DG back to the day she moved into her AU dorm.

“It was either a great coincidence or a conspiracy that my freshman resident advisor, who was the first person to greet me and my mom as I moved into Leonard Hall, was wearing her DG pin,” Deese said. “Anne Marie (Magro) Steiner, SPA/BA ’77 was the then-president of the Beta Epsilon chapter, and she and my mother quickly bonded around their interest in my joining the chapter.” 

Many years later, it was Deese’s DG “little sister” Margie (Stauffer) Eldridge, SOC/BA’80, who suggested that she consider funding a DG lectureship at AU.

As an AU trustee, Deese was engaged with the University’s Civitas Campaign, which was launched in 2003 by the Office of Campus Life and focused on responsible citizenship and civility. Through her role on the Dean’s Advisory Council at the School of Public Affairs, Deese later encouraged adoption of the Project on Civil Discourse.  

Deese said the lecture series will honor her mother and late stepfather, George R. Knight Jr., as well as her daughter and her future career in the legal profession.

“I have a personal stake in the subject of values and ethics. As a lawyer, parent, alum, and educator, these principles are extremely important to me and the community in which we live,” Deese said. “If there ever was a time for people to sit down and listen respectfully to one another, it is now.”